Dracula’s Icelandic and Swedish Versions: Translation, Plagiarism, or Fan Fiction?

In 2017, the literary world and especially Dracula fans were stirred by the publication of Powers of Darkness, believed to be a lost version of Dracula. For years, scholars have known of the Icelandic version of Dracula, but they had assumed it was just a translation of Bram Stoker’s novel. The curious thing was that it included a preface signed by Stoker. However, then Dutch literary researcher Hans Corneel de Roos discovered the Icelandic edition was a very different version of the story. Theories floated around that somehow someone in Iceland got a copy of an early version of Stoker’s novel and published it. The reason to think the novel represented an earlier manuscript of Dracula was that the scenes in Dracula’s castle were longer, but the scenes in London shorter. The book itself was only about half the length of Dracula (Berghorn 3) and many of the characters not as developed.

Powers of Darkness is the 2017 translation into English of the Icelandic translation of Dracula. It reveals many surprising changes between the Dracula we know and the Dracula read in Iceland for over a century.

However, since the publication of Powers of Darkness in English, further research has revealed that the book was not based on one of Stoker’s earlier drafts of Dracula, but rather upon the Swedish “translation” of Dracula. Whoever rewrote/translated Powers of Darkness borrowed from the Swedish translation and the strange differences can then be traced to that translation. Surprisingly, the Swedish translation is also quite bizarre. It turns out to be almost twice as long as Stoker’s Dracula (Berghorn 3). Furthermore, the preface to the Icelandic version that was believed to have been written by Bram Stoker is a forgery. Not only did Stoker not write it, but large portions of it are plagiarized from a Swedish priest. It is highly unlikely a priest would write or edit this preface. Instead, pieces of it were lifted from the memoirs of the priest Bernhard Wadström (Roos 12), who in his memoirs had written an essay about ghost apparitions.

This fascinating discovery leaves us with the question: Where did the Swedish version of Dracula come from? Further exploration has made it clear that the novel is not simply an earlier version of Dracula that Stoker wrote. The author of the Swedish version embellished Stoker’s work, given that Stoker published Dracula in 1897 and references in the Swedish version to the Orlean conspiracy of 1898-9 post-date Dracula (Berghorn 15).

I will not detail how these discoveries were made, but rather, I recommend people read my sources listed at the end of this article.

Of more interest to me is why would someone choose to rewrite Dracula? The answers to that are difficult to know. Since Powers of Darkness (Makt Myrkranna, the Icelandic version) has been published in English, I can only hope that a translation of the Swedish version (Mörkrets makter) will also be soon published in English so more scholars can compare the Swedish version to Stoker’s text. It is possible that an earlier version of Dracula was the source for the Swedish rewrite, and scholars have already determined that if it was based on a draft, it had to be a draft that post-dates 1892. That said, it seems unlikely the Swedish author, whose version was serialized in June 1899 to Feb 1900, thought he or she was solely working from an unpublished manuscript and would not have known that Stoker had already published Dracula. While Dracula had not yet acquired the great fame it enjoys today, it was known internationally, so I would think word of its publication would have reached the Swedish translator/author. Plus, it seems unlikely the author would have let a version of the manuscript just sit around. If the author had acquired it in 1892 or shortly thereafter, why wouldn’t he or she have published it sooner, even before 1897? Therefore, it seems unlikely to me that the Swedish author was working from an earlier version of Dracula. Instead, I believe the Swedish author was working from Stoker’s published version and embellishing the story as he went, although the case remains open.

David J. Skal, in his recent biography of Stoker, Something in the Blood, suggests the Icelandic version might be considered as “unauthorized fan fiction” (Brundan, Jones, and Mier-Cruz 303). I don’t think it’s as simple as that, although it may be.

First, it is certainly possible that the Swedish author simply enjoyed Dracula and wanted to fill in parts of the story by expanding it. But why then did the Icelandic author shorten it? That is complicated. According to Wikipedia, ten days after the Icelandic Powers of Darkness was published in 2017:

“De Roos and Stoker [Dacre, Bram Stoker’s great-nephew] were contacted by Swedish fantasy fiction specialist Rickard Berghorn, who claimed that Makt myrkranna must be based on an earlier serialization in the Swedish newspaper Dagen (The Day) under the title Mörkrets makter (equally meaning Powers of Darkness), from 10 June 1899 to 7 February 1900. In his interview with De Roos, Berghorn stated that Mörkrets makter was much longer than the ca. 160,000 words of Stoker’s English Dracula, and—unlike Makt myrkranna—upheld the epistolary style known from Dracula throughout the novel. Checking these claims against scans he obtained directly from Stockholm, De Roos established that there must have existed two different Swedish variants. It soon turned out that the second serialization of Mörkrets makter, in the tabloid Aftonbladets Halfvecko-Upplaga (Evening Paper’s Half-Weekly), from 16 August 1899–31 March 1900, as first obtained by De Roos, had been shortened to ca. 107,000 words, while dropping the diary style after Part I. Dagen, the sister paper Aftonbladet, and the Aftonbladets Halfvecko-Upplaga were owned by the same publishing company with the same editor, Harald Sohlman; Dagen was a daily Stockholm newspaper while Aftonbladets Halfvecko-Upplaga was a tabloid published twice a week for rural areas.

Did Bram Stoker play any role in the publication and translation of his novel in Sweden and Iceland?

“As the structure of the Icelandic version corresponded to that of the abridged Halfvecko-Upplaga variant (same chapter titles, no epistolary format in Part II), De Roos concluded that Ásmundsson must have used the latter as his source text, replacing various cultural references with hints to Icelandic sagas, while shortening the text even further, to ca. 47,000 words.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness#M%C3%B6rkrets_makter)

Since the Icelandic author also made changes to the manuscript as he abridged it, both the Icelandic and Swedish authors/editors might be considered as writers of fan fiction. However, there are other possibilities beyond just writing fan fiction.

Second, given that both the Icelandic and Swedish versions were serialized, a very real and practical explanation is that the authors expanded or abridged the text to meet the demand of the newspapers, which in turn were trying to meet the demand of the reading public. This, in turn, raises questions about whether the authors thought they were improving Dracula in some way to make it more attractive, palpable, or acceptable to their readers. An April 23, 2017 article by Mark Branagan in Express (online edition) described the Swedish version as a “‘SEX and violence’ version of Dracula deemed too shocking for Victorian Britain.” Was the Swedish author trying to make the story more sensational so it would help to sell the newspaper in Sweden, which may not have been as sexually repressive as England at the time? Perhaps the Icelandic author had similar reasons.

Third, we are left wondering what if any role Stoker had in the production of either of these versions of his novel. Theories were presented of how a manuscript of Dracula got to Iceland before the discovery of the Swedish version, but those we can probably now cast aside. Theories about how a manuscript got to Sweden have also been put forth (Berghorn17-19). However, at this point, we do not know enough to do more than guess.

Currently, many questions remain. I am hopeful a translation in English of the Swedish version will be published so we can learn more. Recently, on December 22, 2019, on his Weird Webzine Facebook page, Berghorn announced an English translation of the (longer) Dagen serialization is upcoming and has been accepted by a well-known publishing house. According to information supplied by Swedish literature scholar Martin Andersson, Berghorn will address anglicisms in passages that did not appear in Stoker’s Dracula, thus suggesting that an (other) English text must have been the basis of the Swedish version  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness_(Sweden)).

Dracula fans and scholars and, indeed, all of the literary world eagerly wait for more answers.

 

Sources:

Berghorn, Rickard. “Dracula’s Way to Sweden: A Unique Version of Stoker’s Novel.” Weird Webzine: Fantasy and Surreality.  Was available August 19, 2020 at: http://weirdwebzine.com/draculitz.html. Site no longer active.

Brundan, Katy, Melanie Jones, and Benjamin Mier-Cruz. “Dracula or Draculitz?” Translation Forgery and Bram Stoker’s ‘Lost Version’ of Dracula.” Victorian Review. 45.2 (Fall 2019): 293-306. Available at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/757842

de Roos, Hans Corneel. “Was the Preface to the Swedish Dracula Written by a Priest?: Bernhard Wadström and the ‘White Lady.’” Available at: https://www.vamped.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/HansDeRoos-WadstroemCase-v17-25May2018-for-W-D-Day.pdf

Wikipedia. Powers of Darkness. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness

Wikipedia. Powers of Darkness (Sweden). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness_(Sweden)

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, Literary Criticism

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